Monthly Archives: September 2012

National Botanic Garden Wales

The spectacular Norman Foster Designed glass house roof helps to create the Mediterranean in damp Wales

On a recent holiday in Wales we discovered the National Botanic Garden. Only begun in 2000 as a millennium project, it is a wonderful place where we spent a glorious day exploring possibilities in gardens and indulged ourselves in warmth and the smells of the Mediterranean in the glass house.

Jay has often asked me how much time I spend when not writing thinking about writing, and I have to admit that it crops up constantly. Whilst exploring into Pembrokeshire from our base in Camarthenshire, I hauled him off to visit the Tudor Merchant’s house in Tenby. It was late in the day and closing time was creeping up on us, but we raced round the streets ignoring rock stick emporiums, purveyors of kiss-me-quick hats and burgerbars until we found it tucked away in a tiny corner, trying not to be noticed. Stone floors, stencilled wall decoration, open fire cooking, draped walls and wooden platters – there was a lovingly recreated Tudor home. It was the perfect research spot for my current writing, which is set at the end of the Jacobean period, in the deep countryside. Domestic living had changed little in that time and I revelled in pewter plate and small glasses, latrine towers and herb gardens until we were finally ejected back onto the streets. But by then Jay had indulged me with a spare ¬£1 and I was clutching a photocopied booklet of Tudor recipies. Poor fellow – he is now about to be subjected to frumenty and wortes, but I have also promised him emelesand tardpolene to cheer him up afterwards.

So what has all this to do with natural forms, I hear you grumble. Why can she not stick to the point? Back to the National Botanic Garden…

Rain that came in a sudden showers out of a blue sky accompanied by a brisk breeze chased us into the glass houses.Inside we found ¬†warmth and the heady smells of Mediterranean vegetation. My mind wandered back to a storyline I planned several years ago, children making a journey down through France, and then onto another story, the one where another group of children living in the warmth and freedom of southern France foil the plans of some… But I will save that one for later.

We wandered on to the tropical glass house.

Big leaf

Just reaching the stage of final unfurling

Another big leaf

Fully spread and tipped with decoration

Huge leaves unfurled themselves around us and we stopped to admire. Hmm I thought, there is a point to be learned here; finish the full unfurling of a story and check that it has all its fine detail before moving onto the next. Those other stories slipped back into their storage compartment, where they are safely held until I am ready to concentrate on them properly.

Circular growth

Spontaneous spirals open their leaves

“Look at these!” I exclaimed as we wandered round another column of greenery. I’ve seen those contorted bamboo plants that are grown in tidy spirals, sold to be stood in clear glass vases in minimalist hallways and sophisticated offices. Here were plants that of their own volition grew in spirals, forming crowns of glory, not quite repeating on themselves, close enough for us to see them as circles, but actually heading on to find the next point in their story. Another lesson – avoid making the story too neat and tidy, leave gaps for minds to make their own connections and then head on.

Splayed growth

Leaves jaunt out in changing directions

Only a few steps further on I was stopped in my tracks again. Here the leaves leaped in serrated steps, and then launched off at a tangent. Do not be afraid of changing directions if it fits with the pattern of the story, I told myself. And, as I dodged a spiky tip – chose the word that is right to the point.

I paused by the door as we prepared to head back into the cool of the outdoor garden, zipping up my jacket and pulling on a hat.
“And I need to remember that no matter how complex you always need to see into the heart of the story.” Jay put and arm round me and gave me a hug.
“This is supposed to be a holiday, too,” he reminded me.
“A wonderful holiday, that gives me good ideas and makes me think. The best kind of holiday,” I told him.


Morning moon
Everything is late it seems at the moment. Even the moon is still up when Hoover and I go out for our morning walk. We have a glut of tomatoes at the moment, and although I can freeze them, they taste better fresh, so I took some up to our neighbour. Mrs Wasbie is in her eighties, but lively and energetic and still involved in the running of her farm. Since the death of her husband and son, the farm is worked entirely by her daughter-in-law and granddaughters. Mostly is is only one granddaughter, but come harvest they all muck in.

She took great delight in telling me how Harry had persuaded some one to demonstrate a fantastic new harvester and they’d all had a ride in the plush cab.
“Like floating, it was. None of this bumpy ride like our own combine. Three of us, two dogs and still space!” I can imagine the demonstrator was only too delighted to be packed into the cab with Harry, who is all legs and blond hair. Chaperoned by Mrs Wasbie might not have been so delightful, but they still had a free harvest of a whole field.


Haylidge neatly raked into rows

A third harvest of haylidge was under way which will help to make up for the poor grain harvest. Mrs Wasbie told me about a friend of her, also in her eighties, who inspects black currants for Ribena. The harvest is dire; the slow ripening has meant that it has been impossible to harvest in the normal manner by machine and blackcurrant farmers are in desperate straights. I picked ours in shifts, bottling them in syrup so that we can have summer feasts in the depths of winter.
“You can’t feed black currants to the cows, not that those farmers have any.” At least with their farm being dairy they can plough their harvest into the cows, and if the worst comes to the worst they can sell a cow to make ends meet. With the hatylidge made, the heifers will be back on the field to eat the last of the grass. That I know is still growing with gusto, as I know from my regular battles with the mower in the garden.

Farmers all around us were making the most of the sudden patch of dry weather. Richard was ploughing on James’s fields, the Turners were topping theirs. When Hoover and I reached the road on the far side of the fields a tractor whizzed by, rushing off to another field. Bees were making the most of the late flowers still blooming.

Dandelion bee

Unexpected treats…

Blackberry flowers

…make drowsy bees…

Bindweed bee

… linger as they sup.






Normally I would expect to be collecting blackberries for jam and jelly by now, but this year they are only just coming into flowers. Bees making the most of the late flowers stagger drunkenly between them and I have to admit that here the bindweed that I drag out of the garden looks lovely, twining blithely upwards through harsh stinging nettles to lift its clear whiteness to the sun.

We arrived home to an excited call from Mrs Wasbie.
“Have you seen one of these wrappers working! Come up and see it; its right by the house.” I hauled my wellies back on and Hoover and I raced up, jumping over the fence between our gardens.

It is indeed a sight worth watching as the machine grabs and wraps the bales, turning them in one direction as they wrap in another, for all the world like giant spiders stashing their prey as they rumbled about the field.
“Wonderful machines!” sighed Mrs Wasbie in admiration. With milking finished in the parlour up the valley, Harry and Georgie bounced past in their landrover, waving cheerily as headed off to harvest another field. We are lucky to have such good neighbours.

“I’d better go and pick my beans,” I admitted to Mrs Wasbie, getting up from my chair in the sun where we had been admiring the others working hard.. “They should have finished long ago, but this year they are only just ready to crop,”
“It’s a strange year,” grinned Mrs Wasbie. But then that’s what farmers always say. And worth remembering; we’re about to hit harvest in my book.